Did you know that squirrels don’t hibernate in the winter?
That’s why they work so hard in the fall.
Food is scarce in the colder months so they prepare by finding and burying large stores of acorns, walnuts, and hickory nuts.
So, what does this have to do with leadership?
You see, squirrels don’t see their hard work in fall as hard work at all. They see it as important and worthwhile. If they don’t put in this effort, they will starve in the winter.
The spirit of the squirrel is this – worthwhile work.
Worthwhile work is doing something because you know it’s important. You know how your work affects the big picture so you are motivated to get it done right. It’s a simple concept I learned years ago in a book called Gung Ho! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.Worthwhile work is doing something because you know it's important. Click To Tweet
The problem is that most bosses don’t take time to help employees connect their work to the bigger picture.
I saw this at one manufacturing plant I led when I first arrived. We were producing 15,000-volt circuit breakers for electric utilities to ensure the power stayed on.
When I first asked employees what they did, they would tell me they drilled holes, ran a CNC machine, or plated parts.
Management hadn’t connected their work to the bigger picture.
As far as they knew, they were just making widgets in a factory.
So, we set about to change that by teaching and showing employees how the products they produced were vitally important to the electrical grid and what would happen if there was a failure of one of our products in the field.
It didn’t happen overnight, but in time, the employees at this plant began to understand that their work was important, their work was worthwhile. There was pride in what they were doing.
Instead of making widgets, they were helping keep the lights on.
Like a squirrel in the fall, their motivation changed. Their work was now connected to the bigger picture. They realized how important their work really was.
I tell this story because I was reminded of this simple concept in a recent podcast episode I did with Max Hourigan.
Max is a company commander in the Army National Guard.
His company of infantrymen was called up to respond to the COVID crisis. His entire team of soldiers was converted into COVID testers. They were trained to become medical personnel and to man mobile testing centers during the initial wave of the pandemic.
When I asked Max how his soldiers responded to being asked to go to the front lines of a global pandemic and act as medical personnel, his answer sounded familiar.
He said – at first they were concerned. They were worried about their health and that of their families. Being on the front lines meant possibly being exposed to this deadly virus. They also had apprehensions about being trained to conduct medical tests.
Over time, though, they all realized how their work impacted the bigger picture.
They realized they were helping to stop the spread of this virus.
They were proud of what they were doing.
Their work was important. They were doing worthwhile work.
The questions I have for you are this – Have you connected your team’s work to the bigger picture? Do they feel they are doing worthwhile work?Have you connected your team’s work to the bigger picture? Click To Tweet
If you haven’t, you need to start today.
Connecting employees’ work to the bigger picture changes their perspective.
Nobody wants to be just a cog in the wheel. They want to know the work they are doing has meaning and is important.
Try this and let me know how it goes.
PS. I recommend subscribing to the Deep Leadership podcast so you don’t miss an episode.